Kendall Gray is known as the super-athletic beast who roamed Delaware State’s front court — a man among boys who pulled down 30 rebounds in 40 minutes in a regular-season game this year. But Gray, who finished second in the nation in rebounds (edged by 0.1 rebounds per game by UC Santa Barbara’s Alan Williams) didn’t start off this way.
“It’s kind of funny, actually, because my freshman and sophomore years I couldn’t buy a rebound even if I paid for it,” Gray says. “Being around the basket, I learned to get more tenacious in going after rebounds and not just standing around watching and waiting for them to come to me.”
That change in his mindset, combined with a new offensive system implemented by first-year head coach Keith Walker, led to Gray posting numbers of 11.7 points and 11.8 rebounds (12.4 during the regular-season) while shooting 55 percent from the field. Walker took over coaching duties towards the end of last season and switched the Hornets’ Princeton-style offense to an up-tempo system and saw right away that it was perfect for Gray’s game.
“Last year when I took over we had about 10 games left,” Walker recalls. “When I decided to change the system for the last seven or eight games, I looked at the stats and Kendall’s numbers were almost tripled. I think he went from averaging about three rebounds to nine and a half. Then he went from averaging five or six points for us to averaging 12 or 13.
“I laid it down and showed him the numbers and last year the leading rebounder averaged 11.5 or something like that, and I said, ‘This is an accomplishment you can get, this is a goal you can reach.’ He set his sights on that and was able to do it.”
“In high school I was always a great shot-blocker but not a great rebounder, so it was just knowing how to go after the ball and improving how to go after the ball,” Gray says. “I started using my athletic ability to go after rebounds with the best of my abilities more often.”
Gray also recorded a school single-season record 95 blocks this year (83 in the regular-season). He was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, just the second player in conference history to win both awards. He’s also the third player in Delaware State program history to earn Player of the Year honors.
“Being in this conference, I always knew I could win Defensive Player of the Year, but I didn’t know I could win Player of the Year. I just thank God, my teammates and my coaches,” Gray says. “Being around a mentor like Alex Stone, who’s been telling me all year, ‘Man if you go out there and play hard, you can actually do something special for Delaware State.’”
“He’s a great young man, you never hear any problems out of him. He’s very coachable, and he’s still in the learning phase so there’s a sense that his best basketball is still ahead of him,” Walker says. “He’s done some phenomenal things this year, but I don’t think he’s anywhere near his ceiling… It’s very rare that a player would be able to get both awards in any league. It shows how much respect the other coaches in the conference have for Kendall.”
The honor meant more the Gray because he did it for his home school. A military kid for most of his childhood, Gray moved around a lot to wherever his father, Winfret, was stationed. Gray was born in California, moved to Mississippi, and then to Texas, before his family finally permanently settled in Dover, Delaware when he was seven years old.
“The best friends I have now, I met them in the second grade, I’m so thankful to have them in my life,” Gray says. “It’s just a blessing to have the opportunity just to be here and do something in Dover that a lot of people can’t do. It’s a small city so everybody knows everybody and it’s just a great feeling when you can go out and talk to somebody on the street and you’ve known them for years… It’s awesome, just being here representing my family and friends and the state that I call home. It’s great having people in your corner coming to the games and supporting you. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Looking back on his 30-rebound performance in the Hornets’ regular-season finale against Coppin State, in which he also scored a career-high 33 points in a 104-92 win, Gray credits his teammates for pushing him to grab everything in sight.
“My teammates were on the bench saying, ‘You have 12 rebounds at halftime so keep going, you have to get 20 rebounds,’” Gray says. “Then when I had 19 rebounds they said, ‘You have to get 25 rebounds!’ Then I got 25 rebounds and they said, ‘You have to get 30 rebounds!’ It was just my teammates supporting me, them being excited to be there watching me and I couldn’t have done it without them. They pushed me to be the best all season throughout practice and throughout games.”
“I think it’s his athleticism; he’s 6-foot-10, but in practice he works out with the perimeter players and the point guard,” Walker says of Gray’s prolific rebounding ability. “He’s such a great athlete, he runs the floor, has great lateral movement and quickness, and he really goes after the ball combining his instincts with his athletic ability.”
As Gray looks back at where he started to where he is now, he remembers that he didn’t start out as the great player he is now. He let that fact motivate him, and push him to put in the work to be in the position he’s in now: achieving greatness.
“Just being counted out a lot motivated me to be a better player and a better person. I was never a top-100 player in the nation, I was never thought of to be a player of the year, but it just motivated me,” Gray says. “My mom always told me to hold that grudge and prepare yourself for the best and the worst, just in case things don’t go as planned. I just put myself in position to go out there and do what I do best to help the team get victories, and that led me to winning these awards and I’m forever grateful for it.”